Environment: Rethinking Cities

The American city is commonly portrayed as hovering on the brink of decay and disaster. Is this picture overdrawn? Indeed it is, according to a recently published book, The Unheavenly City, that has found favor with the Nixon Administration and has aroused considerable controversy among academicians. Combining a ruthless logic of argument with an engaging tolerance of tone, Edward Banfield, 53, professor of urban government at Harvard, contends that many urban problems are largely imaginary. In fact, says Banfield, the cities are performing better than ever.

To arrive at such a heretical position,...

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